When the Right Is Right About the Left

Critics of Israel Should Be Open About Beliefs

Against War, or More? And once the occupation is ended, is there a next target for a protest?
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Against War, or More? And once the occupation is ended, is there a next target for a protest?

By Jay Michaelson

Published July 30, 2012, issue of August 03, 2012.
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Let me start with my bona fides. For several years, and at significant personal cost, I have spoken out about Israeli policies in the West Bank, in particular the settlements and the route of the separation barrier, which I deem to be generally illegal, immoral and harmful to both Israelis and Palestinians. I am also a longtime activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and have supported those in my community who protest Israel’s policies — including by calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions, which I do not support — on the basis of a shared solidarity with those who are oppressed. And an essay I wrote in these pages a few years ago on my wavering love for Israel still gets plenty of airtime and plenty of nasty comments.

I begin with these left-wing credentials because my aim in this column is to call out my liberal colleagues on certain of our blind spots and try to communicate to fellow progressives when, in my view, their criticism of Israel becomes deeply problematic — even, dare I say it, anti-Semitic. I do so because, just as I am uncomfortable in Jewish nationalist circles where people routinely make racist, violent and ethnocentric remarks (and where those remarks support real-world policies with real effects on real people), so, too, I am uncomfortable in left-wing circles where some people evince a casual disregard for the legitimate concerns of Israelis and Jews, for the very real and very deep problems on the Palestinian side, and even for the truth.

When does this happen? I’ll give four examples, focusing, where appropriate, on the LGBT community, which I know fairly well.

First, there is a problematic lack of disclosure among many critics of Israel that their ultimate view is that Israel should not exist at all. For example, despite having recently defended the Jewish Voice for Peace organization in these pages, I do not accept its leadership’s decision to remain officially agnostic on the “one-state solution” — that is, the end of the Jewish state and its replacement by a majority-Palestinian one — especially because when I talk with the JVP supporters I know, that turns out to be their personal view.

Now, whatever the merits of a one-state solution as opposed to a two-state solution, surely activists and pundits should be clear about their ultimate views so that they may be understood. In my view, what is wrong with the Occupation is that it oppresses Palestinians, undermines Israel’s sustainability and contradicts Israel’s own democratic ideals. But that’s quite different from saying that the entire Israeli state is illegitimate. Yet, many times, left-wing critics of Israel pretend to speak out about this or that human rights abuse, while really, they have no vision for the future other than Israel not existing at all. I find myself supporting one cause (criticizing this latest abuse) when the real cause is actually something else (calling for the end of Israel).

This is a shell game, and it’s dishonest. Just as I call out my right-wing friends to tell me their endgame (per Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, this involves Israel wearing down the Palestinians for decades so that they will be willing to accept a deal; per Avigdor Lieberman, it involves population transfer), so I call out my left-wing friends to do the same. Tell me what the endgame is. Is it the end of the Jewish state entirely? Is it the return of Jewish “colonialists” to Europe and North Africa, from whence they fled under the shadow of anti-Semitic violence? Or, perhaps, is it an immediate, unilateral withdrawal — in which case, what is to prevent the West Bank from becoming the next Gaza, with rockets falling all over Israel? I am absolutely on board with criticizing many Israeli policies, but I also want to know where my partners stand on “final-status” issues. Otherwise, I’m being co-opted.


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